During their September 10 editions, the three evening network news programs cumulatively devoted more coverage to Rep. Joe Wilson's outburst during President Obama's September 9 joint address to Congress on health reform -- in which Wilson claimed President Obama lied when he said "our reform efforts" would not "insure illegal immigrants" -- than they allotted to the speech itself. Moreover, while ABC's Jake Tapper explicitly stated that "the president's reforms" would not "apply to illegal immigrants" and NBC's Kelly O'Donnell said that "the bill, as it's written now, is explicit saying that illegal immigrants will not get any health care benefits in reform," the CBS Evening News did not attempt to fact-check Wilson's interjection.
NBC, CBS provide more coverage of Wilson's outburst than the speech itself
NBC featured nearly twice as much coverage of Wilson as Obama. NBC's Nightly News provided 3 minutes and 2 seconds of coverage of Obama's September 9 joint address to Congress, compared to almost twice as much coverage -- 5 minutes and 47 seconds -- of Wilson's outburst during that address. CBS Evening News similarly provided more coverage of Wilson's remark than the President's speech: 3 minutes and 21 seconds for Wilson's outburst compared to 2 minutes and 50 seconds for the speech itself. By contrast, ABC's World News provided more than twice as much coverage of Obama's address than they gave to Wilson's remark. World News featured 5 minutes and 17 seconds on Obama's address compared to 2 minutes and 18 seconds on Wilson's comment.
Cumulatively, nets gave Wilson more coverage than Obama. Taken together, the three nightly news programs aired September 10 on NBC, CBS, and ABC provided more coverage of Wilson's outburst than Obama's address to Congress itself. Cumulatively, Obama's speech received 11 minutes and 9 seconds of coverage, while Wilson's remark commanded 11 minutes and 26 seconds of attention.
Despite reporting Wilson's outburst, CBS fails to fact-check it
CBS's Cordes: Wilson "stands by what he said, but regrets where he said it." In CBS Evening News' lead story about Wilson's outburst, which included several repetitions of his claim that Obama "lie[d]" about whether or not health reform would cover illegal immigrants, correspondent Nancy Cordes did not question whether or not Wilson's claim was accurate. Moreover, Cordes reported that Wilson "stands by what he said." And neither anchor Katie Couric nor other correspondents reporting about health care fact-checked Wilson's claim:
CORDES: The former military attorney stands by what he said, but regrets where he said it. Constituents in his conservative district agree.
UNIDENTIFIED CONSTITUENT: It's completely out of line.
CORDES: Mr. Obama accepted Wilson's apology. [CBS Evening News, 9/10/09, accessed from the Nexis database]
ABC's Tapper: "Would the president's reforms apply to illegal immigrants? The answer is no." On World News, Tapper offered the following fact-check of the issue:
TAPPER: The president tried to do a fact check of his own.
OBAMA: The reforms I am proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.
TAPPER: Would the president's reforms apply to illegal immigrants? The answer is no. House and Senate bills explicitly say any new government subsidies to purchase health insurance would only apply to legal citizens. But the issue is more complicated than that. When illegal immigrants go to emergency rooms, the charges are often paid for by emergency Medicaid, which at least one Democratic bill may expand. Though, today, the White House reiterated the president's point.
ROBERT GIBBS (White House press secretary): The legislation that the President will sign won't cover illegal immigrants. [ABC's World News, 9/10/09, accessed from the Nexis database]
O'Donnell: "[T]he bill, as it's written now, is explicit saying that illegal immigrants will not get any health care benefits in reform." On Nightly News, O'Donnell offered the following fact-check of "Wilson's complaint":
O'DONNELL: Wilson's complaint, however rude it was, reflects a view Republican leaders stood by today. While the president insists health care reform will not cover illegal immigrants, Republicans argue there is a loophole because the House bill fails to require proof of citizenship.
SEN. JON KYL (R-AZ): And so if there is no verification of eligibility required, it is quite likely--indeed, I would say probable--that a lot of people who are not eligible, including illegal immigrants, will be--will end up receiving the benefits of the legislation.
O'DONNELL: And, Brian, this is complicated because the bill, as it's written now, is explicit saying that illegal immigrants will not get any health care benefits in reform. But Republicans say they're concerned about cracks in the system, and examples of times when illegal immigrants have managed to get benefits like Medicaid. Now, this has caused such a fuss that, tonight, Senate Democrats concede there is confusion, and the last committee that's working on legislation says it will try to do more to be specific about requiring proof of citizenship. [NBC's Nightly News, 9/10/09, accessed from the Nexis database]
PolitiFact: "We rate Wilson's statement False." PolitiFact.com concluded that Wilson's accusation that Obama lied about health care reform applying to undocumented immigrants is "false" and stated that "it's worth pointing out that illegal immigrants participating in the exchange would be paying for their insurance like everyone else. That's similar to the current system."
But it's worth pointing out that illegal immigrants participating in the exchange would be paying for their insurance like everyone else. That's similar to the current system -- we're not aware of any particular restrictions that stop illegal immigrants from buying private insurance now. Under health care reform, illegal immigrants would be able to buy private insurance or the public option.
When we look at all of this evidence, it seems that health reform leaves in place the status quo on illegal immigration, and certainly does not provide any new benefits particularly for illegal immigrants. [PolitiFact, 9/09/09]
Media Matters for America reviewed digital video of the September 10 editions of NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, and ABC's World News with Charles Gibson.
Media Matters counted the minutes and seconds of programming devoted to Obama's joint address to Congress and, separately, to coverage of Wilson's remark. Programming about the president's address, or that referenced his speech, was counted as coverage of Obama's speech. Similarly, programming about Wilson's outburst was coded as such. The tease provided by the anchor at the top of the program was not counted.